Travel and Leisure — December 12, 2014 at 5:00 am

Where to See Whale Sharks – Guaranteed

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If you’re tired of just hoping to see a whale shark, there’s one place where you’re promised a sighting. Pack your gear and brush up on your Spanish, we’re going to Mexico for a guaranteed once-in-a-lifetime encounter.Weighing in at more than 22 metric tons and measuring nearly 50 feet long, whale sharks are one of the largest species on the planet. These behemoths are often longer than a Greyhound bus and can live up to 100 years. But there’s no need to panic, they won’t eat you: Whale sharks are filter feeders—they strain their food from the water through filters called “dermal denticals”. For many divers and nature lovers, a whale shark sighting is the ultimate adventure.

My long-time quest for a whale shark sighting took me to the tiny island of Holbox (Hole-bosch), Mexico where whale sharks are plentiful. Engage your sense of wonder and some common sense and you’ll be rewarded with an experience you’ll never forget. Here’s how you can see a whale shark—guaranteed:

Book Your Trip
Book a flight to Cancun anytime between June and September, then book a hotel in Cancun for the night you arrive (you’ll leave for Holbox the next morning). Book a hotel in Holbox that also runs a whale shark sighting operation.

Brush up on your Spanish
Holbox is extremely remote and very little English is spoken. However, if you learn the basics for numbers, greetings and food, you’ll get along fine.

Prepare for the Jungle Ride
You’ll be spending the next four hours a bus riding through the jungle, so take snacks and bottled water for lunch. However, limit how much you consume – there are no facilities on the bus. Make sure you have plenty of (peso) coins and small bills, there is no ATM on Holbox and very few merchants accept credit cards.

Getting to the Bus Station
Ask the concierge at your hotel which bus will take you to the bus station. On the bus, ask the driver to take you to the bus station.  “Estación de autobuses, por favor.”

Ride to Chiquila
At the bus station, buy a ticket to Chiquila (CHICKY-ya) by asking the attendant at the window: “Hola. (Insert number of tickets) billette por Chiquila, por favor.”

Ferry to Holbox
In Chiquila, buy a ticket for the Holbox ferry. Once on Holbox, give your bags to one of the young people who meet you at the dock. This is Holbox’s version of a taxi service, so let them show you to your hotel.

On Holbox
Settle into your hotel and confirm your whale shark trip.  There are several international ex-pat chefs hiding out on the island so you’ll likely have one of the best meals of your life sitting at a plastic table it the middle of a dirt road with a few dogs at your feet. Do remember safe water rules: If it’s not cooked, boiled or peeled—don’t eat it.

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Seeing the Whale Sharks
Your tour guide will give you a safety talk on the hour ride to the whale shark breeding area. When you spot the sharks, you’ll get into the water in pairs with a snorkel mask and fins. It takes little effort for whale sharks to swim very fast, so you’ll get in the water well ahead of them and wait for them to come to you. Whale sharks are famously shy so when they spot you, they may dive for deeper water. However, once you get a look at a fish the size of a semi, that may suit you just fine! Take a waterproof camera or GoPro and enjoy one of the rarest and best experiences on Earth.

 

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